G. D. SEARLE & CO. V. COHN, 455 U. S. 404 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

G. D. Searle & Co. v. Cohn, 455 U.S. 404 (1982)

G. D. Searle & Co. v. Cohn

No. 80-644

Argued December 7, 1981

Decided February 24, 1982

455 U.S. 404


A New Jersey statute tolls the limitation period for an action against a foreign corporation that "is not represented" in New Jersey by any person or officer upon whom process may be served. In respondents' action against petitioner foreign corporation, originally brought in a New Jersey state court and removed to Federal District Court, petitioner moved for summary judgment based upon the applicable New Jersey statute of limitation, and respondents countered with the tolling provision. Although ruling that petitioner was not represented in New Jersey for purposes of the tolling provision, the District Court nevertheless held that the suit was barred. Reasoning that the tolling provision operated to preserve only causes of action against corporate defendants that were not subject to in personam jurisdiction in New Jersey, and that, with the enactment of New Jersey's long-arm rule, the rationale for the preexisting tolling provision ceased to exist, the District Court found the tolling provision invalid under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court of Appeals reversed. That court's decision was based upon an intervening decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court holding that, as a matter of New Jersey law, the tolling provision continued in force despite the advent of long-arm jurisdiction, and that such provision did not violate the Equal Protection Clause, because the increased difficulty of out-of-state service provided a rational basis for tolling the statute of limitation in a suit against an unrepresented foreign corporation.


1. The tolling provision does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Rational reasons support the provision despite the institution of long-arm jurisdiction in New Jersey. The unrepresented foreign corporation remains potentially difficult to locate, and the institution of long-arm jurisdiction has not made service upon such a corporation the equivalent of service upon a corporation with a New Jersey representative, but requires additional conditions for effective service. Because of these burdens connected with suing unrepresented foreign corporations, as opposed to suing a domestic corporation or a represented foreign corporation, the tolling provision does not deprive an unrepresented foreign corporation of the equal protection of the laws. Pp. 455 U. S. 408-412.

2. But since neither lower court addressed directly the question

Page 455 U. S. 405

whether the tolling provision violates the Commerce Clause, and since, moreover, the Commerce Clause issue is clouded by an ambiguity in state law, the Court of Appeals' judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded for consideration of such issue. Pp. 455 U. S. 412-414.

628 F.2d 801, vacated and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which BURGER, C.J.,and POWELL, J., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BURGER, C.J.,joined, post, p. 455 U. S. 414. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 455 U. S. 420.

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